Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Vote for the wolf ... to send them a message

This cartoon, which seems to be doing the rounds in Europe, brilliantly captures one element in the current political mood on both sides of the Atlantic. (Thanks to Suzanne Berger for the tip.)

It's clear that this was originally a Greek cartoon, since the Greek writing at the bottom of the campaign poster identifies the wolf with the swastika armband as a candidate for the Greek neo-fascist Golden Dawn party. Then someone translated the caption into French, possibly adapting it in the process.

For readers whose French is even weaker than mine ... what the sheep in the cartoon is saying can be roughly (though not literally) translated into English as: "I think I'll vote for the wolf. That will send the shepherd a message!" (borrowing a formulation from George Wallace).

—Jeff Weintraub

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Did Antonin Scalia just die in Texas?

If the reports of Scalia's death are correct, which they seem to be, this is a Very Big Deal.  [Update: Those reports have been confirmed.]

There is absolutely no chance that the Republican-controlled Senate would confirm anyone that President Obama nominated to replace Scalia. (Mitch McConnell has already confirmed this.)  So this will almost certainly mean a vacant seat on the Supreme Court between now and the inauguration of the next President ... which will, among other things, help to underline the exceptionally high stakes involved in the 2016 election.

In the meantime, Scalia's absence means that, all of a sudden, there is no longer a 5-4 right-wing majority on the Supreme Court. That is likely to affect the outcome of some extremely important upcoming cases. At the very least, it will probably interrupt the Robert Court's escalating campaign of right-wing judicial activism.  It may also produce extended gridlock on certain key issues.

This is a bombshell.  And the aftershocks are likely to be very messy and prolonged.

—Jeff Weintraub

========================================
Slate
February 13, 2016  -  5:06 p.m.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Dies at 79
By Daniel Politi

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead in a luxury resort in West Texas on Saturday morning, according to multiple reports. The San Antonio Express-News says Scalia was found dead “of apparent natural causes” while at the Cibolo Creek Ranch. Someone apparently went looking for Scalia Saturday morning after the 79-year-old Supreme Court justice failed to show up for breakfast and found him dead in his room. There was no immediate evidence of foul play, according to a federal official cited anonymously by the Express-News.

Local ABC affiliate KVIA is also reporting the news, claiming it received confirmation that Scalia “died in his sleep … after a day of quail hunting.”

Ted Cruz appears to be the first Republican presidential hopeful to come out with a statement mourning Scalia. “A champion of our liberties and a stalwart defender of the Constitution, he will go down as one of the few Justices who single-handedly changed the course of legal history,” Cruz said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement shortly after the news broke, calling Scalia "a man of God, a patriot, and an unwavering defender of the written Constitution and the Rule of Law."

[....]

Scalia had been on the Supreme Court since 1986, when he was nominated by President Ronald Reagan.

*This post has been updated since it was first published.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Pope Francis says that anti-Zionism is anti-semitism

The irrepressibly outspoken Pope Francis, who has repeatedly shown that he's not afraid to make unexpected and controversial statements about difficult subjects, has done it again:
Jewish leaders met with Pope Francis in Rome on the 50th anniversary of the Nostra Aetate, the declaration promulgated by Pope Paul VI that led to improved relations between Jews and Catholics.

“Yes to the rediscovery of the Jewish roots of Christianity. No to anti-Semitism,” the pope said Wednesday morning during the public audience on St. Peter’s Square.  [....]

The Jewish leaders were part of a delegation of representatives of the World Jewish Congress in Rome for a meeting of its governing board. The meeting focused on the situation of Jews around the world, as well as the current tensions in the Middle East, the refugee crisis in Europe and the Iranian threat.

“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism. There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity,” Pope Francis told Lauder and his delegation. [....]
In case anyone wonders whether the Pope's Jewish interlocutors made up or exaggerated that last quotation, it has also been been reported in Catholic publications like the UK Catholic Herald:
Pope Francis told Jewish leaders an outright attack on the State of Israel is just as ‘anti-semitic’ as attacks against Jews.

The Pope made clear that attacks on the State of Israel are a form of anti-Semitism in a private audience with World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder and delegates.

“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism,” Pope Francis told Lauder and his delegation. “There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.”[....]
If I were in Pope Francis's place, I might have formulated that a little differently. As some of you reading this may be aware, I have argued for a while that, strictly speaking, anti-semitism and anti-Zionism  should be analytically distinguished. That's not because anti-Zionism is OK, but because the relationship between anti-semitism and anti-Zionism is actually complex. One of the peculiar features of our era is that, over the past half-century or so, anti-Zionism (by which I mean systematic bias and hostility against Israel, Israelis, and supporters of Israel, shading off into obsessive hatred and demonization that is often accompanied by conspiracy theories about real or imaginary "Zionists") has emerged as an important and complex ideological formation in its own right, with some of its own distinctive roots and motivations, that is not always a direct product or expression of anti-semitism. (Though sometimes it is, of course.) Indeed, it sometimes happens that anti-Zionism helps promote anti-semitism almost as much as the other way around. (For some further elaboration, see here.)

But it's certainly true that the two are very often intertwined or indistinguishable in practice ... and, anyway, anti-Zionist bias and bigotry is morally reprehensible and dangerously pernicious in its own right, whether or not it stems from (or is a coded expression of) anti-semitism. And the claim that Israel has no legitimate right to exist is, of course, a paradigm expression of anti-Zionism. So I think the Holy Father is fundamentally on the right track here, and his statement is welcome and important.

=> At first I wondered whether the Vatican bureaucracy would try to walk back, tone down, or explain away this statement by Pope Francis. Some of them must be quite unhappy and alarmed about it—along with many Catholic clergy & other leaders of Catholic minorities in the Muslim world, who have worried for several decades that papal condemnations of anti-semitism, let alone of anti-Zionism, put their communities at risk.

But so far the Church has not, in fact, repudiated the Pope's straightforward condemnation of anti-Zionism. Walter Russel Mead correctly emphasizes why this stance is significant and deserves attention:
[....] A Vatican spokesman confirmed the gist of the Pope’s remarks to CNN. His Holiness had previously told a journalist in June that, “Whoever does not recognize the Jewish People and the State of Israel falls in anti-Semitism.”

It is this stance, and not the Vatican’s controversial recognition of Palestine this summer, that is the break from the historical norm. The Pope was speaking on the 50th anniversary—a blink of an eye in the history of the church—of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document that repositioned the Catholic relationship with Judaism from one of antagonism to respect for the “people to whom God spoke first.” And for much of Israel’s history, Vatican-Israeli relations were poor: the Holy See did not recognize Israel diplomatically until 1993.

So while Pope Francis is often painted as pro-Palestinian, he’s actually very pro-Israel by historic standards. But now, in a time of increased anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in Europe, Pope Francis’ comments are a welcome ray of light.
Amen.

—Jeff Weintraub

========================================
Tablet
October 29, 2015
Pope Francis: Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism
On the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Pontiff joined President Obama and other world leaders in calling out those who deny Israel’s right to exist

By Yair Rosenberg

On Wednesday, Pope Francis met with Jewish leaders to mark the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, a crucial Vatican II declaration that revolutionized Jewish-Catholic relations by absolving Jews of collective responsibility for Christ’s death and denouncing anti-Semitism. At the gathering, Francis decided to continue in the spirit of that document by condemning what he described as a modern form of anti-Semitism: the denial of the Jewish state’s right to exist.

“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism,” the Pope told a World Jewish Congress delegation. “There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.”

Francis’s statement is noteworthy because the pontiff is far from an unconditional backer of Israel. He has criticized both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and been willing to make powerful symbolic gestures in support of the Palestinian cause. Indeed, as veteran Vatican reporter John Allen has noted, this Church stance predates the current pope. But with his words on Wednesday, Francis drew a bright red line between critiquing Israeli policies and critiquing Israel’s existence. The former, he said, is legitimate and sometimes necessary; the latter is bigotry.

With this declaration, Francis joined an illustrious group of global leaders who have asserted the same in recent months. In May, President Obama told The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg that denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish homeland represented a failure to learn the lessons of history, and ultimately an expression of anti-Semitism. Prior to that, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls had similarly stated that anti-Zionism—as opposed to criticism of Israel’s policies—constituted anti-Semitism.

Notably, the vast majority of the leadership of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel opposes the Jewish state’s right to exist. As BDS leader Omar Barghouti famously put it, Israel “was Palestine, and there is no reason why it should not be renamed Palestine.” Ahmed Moor, another BDS leading light and editor of After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine, has been even more blunt: “BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state.” Likewise, California State University professor >As’ad Abu Khalil has similarly stated, “Justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the State of Israel.” The Pope was doubtless aware of this activism, which is particularly prevalent in Europe, and acted to address it unambiguously.

At a time, then, when college campuses are debating whether BDS constitutes constructive discourse on Israel, and local Hillel Houses are considering which sorts of critics of the Jewish state to lend a platform to, Francis’s and Obama’s guidance could not be more timely.

(Previous: Obama: Denying Israel’s Right to Exist as a Jewish Homeland is Anti-Semitic)

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet and the editor of the English-language blog of the Israeli National Archives. Follow him on Twitter @Yair_Rosenberg.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

A last-minute deal to resolve the EU-Greek crisis?

It looks as though there will be a last-minute political deal, which Tsipras will now have to push through the Greek parliament.  (I suspect that may require votes from non-Syriza parties to make up for defections from the governing coalition.)  What this deal actually means will depend on the details ... which I presume will become clearer soon.

—Jeff Weintraub

==============================
Guardian
Thursday, July 9, 2015 - 14.39 EDT
Greece debt crisis: Athens accepts harsh austerity as bailout deal nears
Greek cabinet reportedly backs a package of reforms and spending cuts worth €13bn to secure third bailout and modest debt writeoff

By Phillip Inman, Graeme Wearden, & Helena Smith

The Greek government capitulated on Thursday to demands from its creditors for severe austerity measures in return for a modest debt write-off, raising hopes that a rescue deal could be signed at an emergency meeting of EU leaders on Sunday.

Athens is understood to have put forward a package of reforms and public spending cuts worth €13bn (£9.3bn) to secure a third bailout from creditors that could raise $50bn and allow it to stay inside the currency union.

A cabinet meeting signed off the reform package after ministers agreed that the dire state of the economy and the debilitating closure of the country’s banks meant it had no option but to agree to almost all the creditors terms.

Parliament is expected to endorse the package after a frantic few days of negotiation that followed a landmark referendum last Sunday in which Greek voters backed the radical leftist Syriza government’s call for debt relief.

Syriza, which is in coalition with the rightwing populist Independent party, is expected to meet huge opposition from within its own ranks and from trade unions and youth groups that viewed the referendum as a vote against any austerity.

Panagiotis Lafazanis, the energy minister and influential hard-leftist, who on Wednesday welcomed a deal for a new €2bn gas pipeline from Russia, has ruled out a new tough austerity package.

Lafazanis represents around 70 Syriza MPs who have previously taken a hard line against further austerity measures and could yet wreck any top-level agreement.

Emphasising the likelihood of further strife in Greece next week even should a deal be concluded, Brussels officials talked privately of plans to fly in humanitarian aid such as food parcels and medicines to major cities.

The urgency of Greek efforts to prevent an exit from the euro came after Brussels set a midnight Thursday deadline for Greece to produce a package of measures in line with previous demands.

With the support of officials from the French finance ministry, Greek negotiators are believed to have accepted the need for VAT rises and rules blocking early retirement as the price of a deal.

Several EU leaders said the troika of creditors – the European commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank - must also make concessions to secure Greece’s future inside the eurozone.

Donald Tusk, who chairs the EU summits, said European officials would make an effort to address Greece’s key request for a debt write-off.

“The realistic proposal from Greece will have to be matched by an equally realistic proposal on debt sustainability from the creditors. Only then will we have a win-win situation,” Tusk said.

Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland, aligned himself with France and Italy in seeking a way through the political maze that has defeated all previous efforts to find a breakthrough.

Sources close to Greece’s chief negotiator and finance minister, Euclid Tsakalotos, said he had finalised and submitted a plan of reforms for a third bailout to give creditors time to review it ahead of a summit of EU members on Sunday.

On Thursday, the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble said the possibility of some kind of debt relief would be discussed over coming days, although he cautioned it may not provide much help.

“The room for manoeuvre through debt reprofiling or restructuring is very small,” he said.

Greece has long argued its debt is too high to be paid back and that the country requires some form of debt relief. The IMF agrees, but key European states such as Germany have resisted the idea.

Making Greece’s debt more sustainable would likely involve lowering the interest rates and extending the repayment dates on its bailout loans. Germany and many other European countries rule out an outright debt cut, arguing it would be illegal under European treaties.

The developments on Thursday boosted market confidence that a compromise will be found. The Stoxx 50 index of top European shares was up 2.4% in late afternoon trading.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met with finance ministry officials ahead of the cabinet meeting on Thursday afternoon which finalised his country’s plan, a day after his government requested a new three-year aid programme from Europe’s bailout fund and promised to immediately enact reforms.

The last-minute negotiations come as Greece’s financial system teeters on the brink of collapse. It has imposed restrictions on banking transactions since 29 June, limiting cash withdrawals to €60 per day to staunch a bank run. Banks and the stock market have been shut for just as long.

The closures, which have been extended until Monday, have led to daily lines at cash machines and have hammered businesses. Payments abroad have been banned without special permission.

Greece’s financial institutions have been kept afloat so far by emergency liquidity assistance from the ECB. But the central bank has not increased the amount in days, giving the lenders a stranglehold despite capital controls.

German ECB governing council member Jens Weidmann argued Greek banks should not get more emergency credit from the central bank unless a bailout deal is struck. He said it was up to eurozone governments and Greek leaders themselves to rescue Greece.

The central bank “has no mandate to safeguard the solvency of banks and governments,” he said in a speech.

The ECB capped emergency credit to Greek banks amid doubt over whether the country will win further rescue loans from other countries. The banks closed and limited cash withdrawals because they had no other way to replace deposits.

Weidmann said he welcomed the fact that central bank credit “is no longer being used to finance capital flight caused by the Greek government”.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Dealing with copy-editors, journal-article reviewers, and positivists ...

... or, for an alternative heading:  Eclipse of dialectical reason.  —Jeff Weintraub


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Today is your last chance to vote for the Hatikvah slate

Wherever you are as you read this, those of you who are Jewish are eligible to vote for representatives to the World Zionist Congress. And if you support the existence and survival of Israel; care about the prospects for its future as a secure, thriving, and democratic country; and want to help promote the pursuit of a just and durable peace to resolve the intertwined Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts—then I urge you to join me in voting for the Hatikvah Slate.

Rather than spell out the case for doing this, I'm passing along an appeal sent out earlier this month by Michael Walzer, Deborah Dash Moore, and Chad Goldberg (below).

The voting period ends today. But it's not too late to vote at this link.

—Jeff Weintraub

===================================

April 9, 2015

We are writing today to encourage you to support the Hatikvah Progressive Zionist Slate in the ongoing elections to the World Zionist Congress.  We are among the candidates on the Hatikvah Slate, which is made up of Ameinu, Habonim Dror North America, Hashomer Hatzair and Partners for a Progressive Israel (formerly Meretz USA).  Additionally, the slate includes leaders from J Street, New Israel Fund, Americans for Peace Now and Open Hillel, along with individual activists like Theodore Bikel and Randi Weingarten.

The Hatikvah Slate is committed to protecting the State of Israel as a just and thriving democratic Jewish state.  Among the goals of our slate are a lasting peace and negotiated two state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, an immediate freeze in settlement activity in the West Bank, an effective campaign against the delegitimation of Israel, a strong social safety net for vulnerable Israelis, democracy and equal rights, religious pluralism and priority resource allocation to support Zionist youth movements and opportunities for young people to have meaningful experiences in Israel.  The full platform of the Hatikvah Slate can be found here.

[W]hile most of us did not have a chance to vote in the recent Israeli elections, the elections to the World Zionist Congress is an excellent chance to make our voices heard.  It is important to note that actions taken at the World Zionist Congress have significant influence on policy and budget decisions related to West Bank settlements, religious pluralism and other aspects of Israeli and Diaspora public policy.  Background on the elections process and the importance of voting in this election can be found here.

Thank you for considering the Hativkah Slate.  We would greatly appreciate your vote at this link and encourage you to spread the word among your networks to build support for the Hatikvah Slate and the progressive Zionist vision for Israel.

Best Wishes,

Friday, April 03, 2015

Happy Passover - "They Tried to Kill Us, We Survived, Now Let's Eat"

An annual Passover feature, first posted in April 2006 HERE. Here is the gist of it:

The Basic Scenario:
According to one Jewish joke, the theme of all Jewish holidays is: "They tried to kill us. We survived. Now let's eat!"
(As a general rule, that's not completely accurate, but it captures a lot.)

The song:

That message was turned into a Passover song by the group What I Like About Jew. The lyrics are at the end of this post, and you can hear a performance of the song (not the best version I've heard, but the best available on YouTube) here:



Other versions here & here & here.

=> For further explanation, commentary, and interpretive wrangling about things Jewish, go back to the original post HERE.

--Jeff Weintraub

==============================
"They Tried to Kill Us (We Survived, Let's Eat)"

Artist: What I Like About Jew
Composer: Sean Altman and Rob Tannenbaum
CD Title:Unorthodox
Label: Big Sean Music and Tbaum Music

They Tried To Kill Us (We Survived, Let's Eat)
(words & music by Sean Altman & Rob Tannenbaum)

We were slaves to pharaoh in Egypt
The year was 1492
Hitler had just invaded Poland
Madonna had just become a Jew
Moses was found on the Potomac
Then he marched with Martin Luther King
He came back to free us from our bondage
'Cause S&M has never been our thing

They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat
They tried to kill us, we were faster on our feet
So they chase us to the border
There's a parting of the water
Tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat

Then the Pharaoh, who looked like Yul Bruyner
Heard the Jews were trying to escape
Charlton Heston came right down from the mountain
He said, "Pharaoh, you're a damn dirty ape"
The menorah was almost out of oil
Farrakhan was planning Kristalnacht
The gefilte fish was nearing extinction
It looked like Moses and his flock were fehrkakt

They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat
They tried to kill us, we were faster on our feet
And we knew how to resist
'Cause we'd rented Schindler's List
Tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat

The 10 Egyptian plagues
1. Blood
2. Locusts
3. Boils
4. Dandruff
5. Acne
6. Backne
7. Piles
8. Cataracts
9. Sciatica
10. Sickle cell anemia

We fled on foot, there was no time to tarry
Leavening the bread would take too long
All we had was egg foo yung and matzoh
While battling the fearsome Viet Cong
And so tonight, we gather to remember
The ancient Hebrews who paid the price
We have a Seder, every year in December
To commemorate our savior, Jesus Christ

They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat
They tried to kill us, we were faster on our feet
So we never did succumb to the annual pogrom
Tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat

They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat
They tried to kill us, we were faster on our feet
So come on, blow the shofar
'Cause they haven't nailed us so far
Tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat

Monday, January 26, 2015

Syriza's coalition ... and what it might mean

A few follow-ups to my post on the Greek election yesterday ...

=> Many of the reports in foreign newspapers, whether they were sympathetic or unsympathetic to Syriza, carried some variant of this formulation (which I'm quoting from the Telegraph): "Greece on collision course with rest of Europe after handing general election victory to far-left party that has vowed to reject austerity"

It's interesting to note that in order to be a "far-left party" nowadays, you don't need to be Marxist—you just need to be Keynesian.

More precisely, I guess, what's involved in this case is Keynesian economics combined with a certain amount of economic nationalism and some commitment to what Karl Polanyi termed "the self-protection of society" against the disruptions, dislocations, insecurities, and assorted miseries that can result from the uncontrolled and un-buffered dynamics or a capitalist market economy. That approach used to be called mainstream social democracy (also adopted to some degree, in many countries, by Christian Democratic and Conservative parties, not to mention New Deal Democrats and Eisenhower/Rockefeller Republicans in the US), but now it looks more radical.

Is that package even, necessarily, "leftist"?  That's the next question, to which the answer is ... it depends on the details (and the circumstances).  Today's news from Greece helps bring that out.

=> Syriza won 149 seats in the 300-seat Greek parliament—tantalizingly close to an absolute majority, but not quite there. Today came the news that its coalition partner is not a left or center-left party but an unabashedly right-wing party that calls itself Independent Greeks. This move is unexpected and a bit startling, but there is a certain logic to it, and it even helps confirm some of my earlier surmises about the background and possible significance of Syriza's election victory. What unites Syriza and Independent Greeks is a combination of economic nationalism and opposition to economic "austerity" policies. Here's the report from the BBC's Mark Lowen:
What unites Greece's new coalition partners is fierce opposition to budget cuts. Alexis Tsipras and Panos Kammenos are anti-bailout to the core [JW: i.e., fundamentally opposed to the terms imposed as part of the EU/IMF "bailouts"], frequently hitting out at the architects of austerity in Berlin and Brussels and pledging a new economic path. But that is where their common ground ends. In other areas, the two are unlikely bedfellows.

One is a socially liberal leftist, lambasting the "old faces" of Greek politics. The other is a hardline right-winger on issues such as immigration - and has been around in previous governments for some time. So why would Syriza join forces with Independent Greeks?

Possibly because others refused - or were deemed too soft on the bailout. The River, a new, broadly centrist party which some expected to be the coalition partner, made clear it opposed Syriza's hard rhetoric towards Berlin.

The problem for Mr Tsipras is that many of his own supporters revile Mr Kammenos's conservatism and will be frustrated by the choice. And disappointing his supporters, to whom he has pledged so much, is not something Greece's new prime minister wants to repeat.
The optimistic interpretation is that, in Polanyian terms, this is a "counter-movement" coalition, focused on a shared commitment to the urgent priority of social protection. (If there's anyone for whom that formulation doesn't make immediate sense, see here.)

But that's an optimistic reading, and we'll have to see how this tactical gamble actually works out in practice. It's easy to imagine all sorts of ways it could blow up disastrously; but on the other hand, urgent circumstances sometimes require dangerous gambles. Interesting times ahead ...

—Jeff Weintraub

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Syriza wins big

As expected, Syriza was the decisive winner in Greece's parliamentary elections. Early reports suggest that it got about 36% of the votes, compared with about 28% for outgoing Prime Minister Antonio Samaras's right-of-center New Democracy. And with the bonus of 50 seats that go to the party with the most votes, Syriza is currently projected to get 149 seats out of 300—tantalizingly close to an absolute majority. (PASOK, the long-time governing party of the Greek social-democratic left, which won a 160-seat majority as recently as 2009, has collapsed so thoroughly that it seems to have barely cleared the 3% minimum to get into parliament this time.)

BBC reporter Gavin Hewitt was just one of many analysts to observe that this election result "will send shock waves through Europe". Here's an election roundup from the Guardian:
Summary

Here’s summary of a momentous election result for the future of Greece and Europe:

° The anti-austerity far left party Syriza has won the Greek election by a decisive margin, but just short of an outright majority. With more than three-quarters of the results in Syriza is projected to win 149 seats in the 300 seat parliament.

° Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said his party’s victory marked an end to the “vicious cycle of austerity”. Referring to the neoliberal conditions set by the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank, he said: “ The verdict of the Greek people renders the troika a thing of the past for our common European framework.”

° Outgoing prime minister Antonis Samaras conceded defeated by acknowledging some mistakes. But he added: “We restored Greece’s international credibility”.

° To Potami, the centre-left party could be the kingmakers in the new parliament, with a project 16 seats. Its leader Stavros Theodorakis has not ruled out a deal with Syriza. “It’s too early for such details,” he said.

° The far-right Golden Dawn party is projected to come third in election, despite having more than half of its MPs in jail. Speaking from prison its leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos said the result was a “great victory” for the neo-fascist party.

° Syriza victory has been greeted with alarm in Germany. The ruling CDU party insisting that Greece should stick to the austerity programme. But Belgium’s finance minister said there is room for negotiation with Syriza.

° Leftwingers across Europe have hailed Syriza win. Spain’s anti-austerity party Podemos said Greece finally had a government rather than a German envoy. Britain’s Green Party said Syriza’s victory was an inspiration.
It's worth adding that many figures on the anti-EU right, including the leaders of France's National Front, have also hailed Syriza's victory.

—Jeff Weintraub




What's at stake in today's Greek election? (Ambrose Evans-Pritchard)

Greeks are voting today in their election of the century. It's widely expected that the winner of the election (probably not with a majority, but most likely with a plurality) will be Syriza, a left-wing party that was formed a decade ago but that has become a significant political force only since 2012. It has emerged out of the wreckage of Greece's former party system under the impact of the post-2008 economic crash and the policies of fiscal "austerity" imposed on Greece in return for bailout loans. (The other party to emerge from this catastrophe has been the far-right, xenophobic, neo-fascist Golden Dawn.)

Syriza is ahead because many Greeks feel (not without some cause) that the current situation is intolerable, that the policies imposed on Greece have been unworkable and counter-productive as well as pointlessly sadistic, and that the traditional parties and their leaders are politically bankrupt.  But if Syriza does come to power after today's elections, the result could be a crisis, not just for Greece, but possibly for the Eurozone and the EU as a whole.

I think one of the best compact explanations of how and why that's true remains an article written by Ambose Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph back in early December (below). Some highlights:
Events have rudely exposed the illusion that Greece's people will submit quietly to a decade of colonial treatment and debt servitude.

As matters stand, it is more likely than not that a defiant Alexis Tsipras will be the elected prime minister of Greece by late January. His Syriza alliance has vowed publicly and persistently that it will overthrow the EU-IMF Troika regime, refusing to implement the key demands.

A view has taken hold in EU capitals and the City of London that Mr Tsipras has resiled from these positions and will ultimately stick to the Troika Memorandum, a text of economic vandalism that pushed Greece into seven years of depression, with a 25.9pc fall in GDP, longer and deeper than Europe's worst episodes in the 1930s.

Mr Tsipras is a polished performer on the EU circuit. He can no longer be caricatured as motorbike Maoist. But the fact remains that he told Greek voters as recently as last week that his government would cease to enforce the bail-out demands "from its first day in office".

The logical implication is that Greece will be forced out of the euro in short order, unless the EU institutions capitulate. Syriza's deputy, Panagiotis Lafazanis, is plainly willing to take this risk, warning in October that the movement must "be ready to implement its progressive programme outside the eurozone” if need be. His Aristeri Platforma holds 30pc of the votes on Syriza's central committee.

Mr Tsipras also knows it. He is gambling that EU leaders - meaning Germany's Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schauble - will yield. His calculation is that they will not dare to blow up monetary union at this late stage, and over a relative pittance.
Maybe, maybe not.

Actually, Evans-Pritchard himself clearly felt that the outcome of this (hypothetical) confrontation was unpredictable. But he did make it clear that he thought Syriza's analysis of the current situation and its unsustainability was essentially correct. And his portrait of Syriza's leader, Alexis Tsipras, was highly laudatory.

It's a little odd to see a generally right-of-center analyst, writing in a definitely conservative newspaper like the Telegraph, effectively endorse a left-wing party like Syriza. It struck me at the time that at least two factors were probably involved.

The first is that there is a significant Euroskeptical (even Europhobic) strain in the British right, in which Evans-Pritchard participates.  Not only do a lot of people with perspectives like Evans-Pritchard's share a critical, even hostile attitude toward the EU and its institutions. A number of right-wing Euroskeptics in other European countries are probably hoping that Syriza's victory will help spark a more general anti-EU reaction that will eventually blow the whole system apart. The result is that the prospect of Syriza's victory has been viewed with sympathy not only in sectors of the European left, but also in some sectors of the European right. (Even Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's far-right National Front, declared that she will "welcome" a Syriza victory.)

The second factor is that the EU's anti-Keynesian "austerity" policies in response to the post-2008 economic crash have, in fact, been wrong-headed and disastrous.  The effects on Greece and other southern European countries have been especially bad, but Greece may wind up playing the role of the canary in the coal mine.  As Evans-Pritchard summed it up in December:
The EU's mishandling of Greece has been calamitous. Investment has fallen by 63.5pc. Public debt has spiralled to 177pc of GDP, even after two sets of haircuts on private creditors.

Unemployment has dropped slightly to 25.9pc, or 49.3pc for youth, but only because of a mass exodus, a brain-drain to the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, and the UK. The work force has shed over a million jobs, dropping to 3.5m.  [....]

For all the talk of EU-led reform, Greece's ranking on the World Economic Forum's competitiveness index has dropped from 67 to 81 over the last six years, below Ukraine, Guatemala, and Algeria.

"The concept of reform has been gradually discredited during the current crisis," was the acid verdict of the Athens think-tank IOBE in its latest report. Any marginal gains from EU reforms have been overwhelmed in any case by the hysteresis damage of lost labour skills, which lowers Greece's future growth trajectory.

Stripped bare, it has been brute austerity, imposed by powerful foreign creditors in their own interest. My view is that Greece would have recovered long ago if it had left EMU at the outset of the crisis, turning to the IMF for a classic bail-out package. It received the IMF's austerity medicine, but not IMF's the cure of debt forgiveness and devaluation. The fiscal multiplier did its worst with nothing to offset it.

Debt relief was blocked. The Troika imposed yet more debt onto a country that was already bankrupt, allowing foreign banks and investment funds to dump their bonds onto Greek taxpayers through the mechanism of EU "bail-outs". These were not in fact bail-outs. They were loans. The burden remains entirely on the shoulders of the Greek state, though you would not know that from reading the North European press.

The IMF admits in its mea culpa that Greece needed debt relief from the start. Normal rules were violated, under EU pressure, because the primary goal was to hold EMU together. The assumption was that any hint of debt restructuring for Greece risked setting off an uncontrollable chain-reaction through southern Europe.[....]

Greece was sacrificed to buy time for the alliance, like the Spartans at Thermopylae. It was subjected to an unworkable economic experiment, in defiance of known economic science and principles. Given what has happened, Europe’s leaders have a special duty of care to Greece. They have betrayed it.

Europe's contractionary policies have failed on every level.
And not only in Greece. That's the crucial background here.
The region has not regained "escape velocity" since the Lehman crisis, and is now sliding into deflation. Output is still below 2008 levels. The economy has performed worse over the last six years than from 1929 to 1935. Debt ratios are rising across the South.

The centre-Left has proved unable to articulate any critique because of EMU's political code of Omerta. The once great parties of European social democracy have become grim enforcers of reactionary policies, apologists for mass unemployment.

So it falls to rebels to catalyze the simmering rage. Europe's leaders may have met their match at last in the ice-cold Mr Tsipras.
Or, perhaps, the EU won't back down, Tsipras will discover that Greece really is boxed in, Syriza will turn out to be an ineffectively unwieldy coalition when put to the test, Tsipras himself will blow it, and the results will be further disaster for Greece and everyone else.

Either way, this is potentially a very important election, and not just for Greece. Stay tuned ...

—Jeff Weintraub

===================================
The Telegraph
December 10, 2014
Greek candidate willing to call European leaders’ bluff 
Alexis Tsipras told Greek voters as recently as last week that his government would cease to enforce the bail-out demands
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

Events have rudely exposed the illusion that Greece's people will submit quietly to a decade of colonial treatment and debt servitude.

As matters stand, it is more likely than not that a defiant Alexis Tsipras will be the elected prime minister of Greece by late January. His Syriza alliance has vowed publicly and persistently that it will overthrow the EU-IMF Troika regime, refusing to implement the key demands.

A view has taken hold in EU capitals and the City of London that Mr Tsipras has resiled from these positions and will ultimately stick to the Troika Memorandum, a text of economic vandalism that pushed Greece into seven years of depression, with a 25.9pc fall in GDP, longer and deeper than Europe's worst episodes in the 1930s.

Mr Tsipras is a polished performer on the EU circuit. He can no longer be caricatured as motorbike Maoist. But the fact remains that he told Greek voters as recently as last week that his government would cease to enforce the bail-out demands "from its first day in office".

The logical implication is that Greece will be forced out of the euro in short order, unless the EU institutions capitulate. Syriza's deputy, Panagiotis Lafazanis, is plainly willing to take this risk, warning in October that the movement must "be ready to implement its progressive programme outside the eurozone” if need be. His Aristeri Platforma holds 30pc of the votes on Syriza's central committee.

Mr Tsipras also knows it. He is gambling that EU leaders - meaning Germany's Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schauble - will yield. His calculation is that they will not dare to blow up monetary union at this late stage, and over a relative pittance.

Too much political capital has been invested. The EU-IMF loans have already reached €245bn, the biggest indenture package in history. To let it fall apart now would reveal the failings of their EMU crisis management.

The clock is already ticking. Greece must repay €6.7bn to the European Central Bank in July and August. The ECB will not roll the debts over because that would be monetary financing of a government. The capital markets are shut.

Mr Tsipras is expecting to receive a call from the ECB within weeks of taking office reminding him that Greece owes some €40bn in support for the banking system. This will be a veiled threat to pull the plug, as it threatened to do in Ireland, and came close to doing in Cyprus.

I am reliably informed that his answer to any such call will be: "do your worst". Mr Tsipras wishes to keep Greece in the euro but not at any price.

"We are not going to crumble at the first hurdle," said one of his close advisers. "A freshly elected government cannot allow itself to be intimidated by threats of Armageddon. The ECB bought these bonds to stem the eurozone crisis, not to help Greece."

Needless to say, markets are taking fright. The Athens bourse fell 13pc on Tuesday, the biggest one-day drop since the 1987 crash.

Yields curve on three-year Greek debt have exploded by almost 300 basis points to 9.52pc in two days. They are now 90 points higher than 10-year yields, a violent inversion of the yield curve unseen since default scares of the EMU crisis. Italian and Portuguese yields have been ratcheting too, early evidence of where contagion risk still lies.

The Syriza road show in the City last month went horribly wrong. "Everybody coming out of the meeting wants to sell everything Greek," said a leaked memo by Capital Group's Joerg Sponer.

The reported shopping list was: a haircut for creditors; free electricity, food, shelter, and health care for all who need it; tax cuts for all but the rich; a rise in the minimum wage and pensions to €750 a month; a moratorium on private debt payments to banks above 20pc of disposable income; €5bn more in EU subsidies; and demands for 62pc debt forgiveness on the grounds that this is what Germany received in 1952. "The programme is worse than communism (at least they had a plan). This will be total chaos," said Mr Sponer.

"It was a disaster," said Professor Yanis Varoufakis from Athens University, a man tipped to play a key economic role in any Syriza-led government. The reality is more prosaic. "We are not going to go on a spending spree. We will aim to achieve a modest primary surplus, and we will liberalize the labour market," he said.

"Greece faces a humanitarian crisis and we will spend €1.3bn to alleviate abject poverty. There will be US-style food stamps and we will reconnect electricity to homes where it has been cut off," he said.

"There will have to be debt relief because it is simply unpayable. We will ask Germany to renegotiate," he said. Most of the remaining debt is owed to EU bodies, which replaced private creditors long ago.

The proposal is based on "Bisque bonds" floated by John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s. The idea was explored by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Daniel Heymann in their book "Life After Debt".

The bonds would be new issues with payments linked to the rate of GDP growth. Greece has already issued such bonds under its 2012 restructuring. Mr Tsipras wants this extended to all the debt, and on better terms. If EMU leaders believe their own tale that Greece can grow its way out of debt at rates of 3.5pc or 4pc, they should have no fear agreeing to such terms.

This is the Tsipras plan. It is high stakes poker. We know from kiss-and-tell books - such as "Morire di Austerità" by ex-ECB board member Lorenzo Bini-Smaghi - that Chancellor Merkel came within a whisker of ejecting Greece from the euro in 2012. She relented only when it became clear that Italy and Spain were going up in flames.

The eurozone now has firewalls in place. There are - in theory - back-stop mechanisms to bolster confidence. Richard McGuire from Rabobank says the prospect of QE may embolden some to think they can cope with the systemic fall-out if Greece were "allowed to go it alone", in other words if Greece were kicked out.

It may not come to this. Premier Antonis Samaras may yet find 25 opposition MPs to support his candidate for the Greek presidency in parliamentary votes this month. Only if he fails to win a 60pc super-majority will there be a snap general election. [JW: As we know, Samaras failed to get the necessary votes.]


The latest Alco poll gives Syriza 31pc support, with Mr Samara's New Democracy holding at 25.7pc. This lead has been stable for months. The winner gets an extra 50 seats under the electoral law. Syriza will need a coalition partner - probably the pro-EU Potami party - but its ascendancy looks clear.

The EU's mishandling of Greece has been calamitous. Investment has fallen by 63.5pc. Public debt has spiralled to 177pc of GDP, even after two sets of haircuts on private creditors.

Unemployment has dropped slightly to 25.9pc, or 49.3pc for youth, but only because of a mass exodus, a brain-drain to the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, and the UK. The work force has shed over a million jobs, dropping to 3.5m.


The economy has stabilized. It grew 0.7pc in the third quarter on pent-up demand. But this should not be confused with recovery or a return to viability within the EMU fixed-exchange system. Exports were lower in 2013 (€51.6) than in 2007 (€56.6bn). The current account deficit has narrowed because imports have collapsed.

For all the talk of EU-led reform, Greece's ranking on the World Economic Forum's competitiveness index has dropped from 67 to 81 over the last six years, below Ukraine, Guatemala, and Algeria.

"The concept of reform has been gradually discredited during the current crisis," was the acid verdict of the Athens think-tank IOBE in its latest report. Any marginal gains from EU reforms have been overwhelmed in any case by the hysteresis damage of lost labour skills, which lowers Greece's future growth trajectory.

Stripped bare, it has been brute austerity, imposed by powerful foreign creditors in their own interest. My view is that Greece would have recovered long ago if it had left EMU at the outset of the crisis, turning to the IMF for a classic bail-out package. It received the IMF's austerity medicine, but not IMF's the cure of debt forgiveness and devaluation. The fiscal multiplier did its worst with nothing to offset it.

Debt relief was blocked. The Troika imposed yet more debt onto a country that was already bankrupt, allowing foreign banks and investment funds to dump their bonds onto Greek taxpayers through the mechanism of EU "bail-outs". These were not in fact bail-outs. They were loans. The burden remains entirely on the shoulders of the Greek state, though you would not know that from reading the North European press.

The IMF admits in its mea culpa that Greece needed debt relief from the start. Normal rules were violated, under EU pressure, because the primary goal was to hold EMU together. The assumption was that any hint of debt restructuring for Greece risked setting off an uncontrollable chain-reaction through southern Europe.

“Debt restructuring should have been on the table,” said Brazil's member of the IMF board, in leaked minutes from a meeting in May 2010. The loans “may be seen not as a rescue of Greece, which will have to undergo a wrenching adjustment, but as a bailout of Greece’s private debt holders, mainly European financial institutions”.

The Troika's fear of contagion was justified, as the unfolding drama would later show. The deformed construction of EMU amplified the stress, and the dangers. It is easy to forget how close we were to a systemic blow-up at that moment, in the white heat of the crisis, before the ECB had begun to fulfil its primary duty as a lender of last resort, and before any EMU rescue machinery was in place.

Greece was sacrificed to buy time for the alliance, like the Spartans at Thermopylae. It was subjected to an unworkable economic experiment, in defiance of known economic science and principles. Given what has happened, Europe’s leaders have a special duty of care to Greece. They have betrayed it.

Europe's contractionary policies have failed on every level. The region has not regained "escape velocity" since the Lehman crisis, and is now sliding into deflation. Output is still below 2008 levels. The economy has performed worse over the last six years than from 1929 to 1935. Debt ratios are rising across the South.

The centre-Left has proved unable to articulate any critique because of EMU's political code of Omerta. The once great parties of European social democracy have become grim enforcers of reactionary policies, apologists for mass unemployment.

So it falls to rebels to catalyze the simmering rage. Europe's leaders may have met their match at last in the ice-cold Mr Tsipras.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Today's Charlie Hebdo cover: "All is forgiven"


Various distractions have kept me from blogging yet about the terrorist attacks in Paris against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and (let us not forget) against Jews. I will probably get around to posting some things over the next few days.

Meanwhile, I want to celebrate the truly brilliant cover of today's issue of Charlie Hebdo, the first published after the massacre. As the BBC reports:
Charlie Hebdo's latest cover shows a cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad weeping while holding a sign saying "I am Charlie"  [....]  below the headline "All is forgiven".

[....]  The normal print run of 60,000 was extended to five million - a week after Islamist gunmen murdered 12 people at the magazine's offices and five others in subsequent attacks in Paris.
(They intended to print three million copies, but it seems that those are already selling out.)

—Jeff Weintraub

Addendum: I noticed Facebook comments about this CH cover by two friends of mine that strike me as very apt—and worth highlighting, because they capture important qualities of the cartoon that help make it so brilliant.

Georges Dreyfus, who is not normally a fan of Charlie Hebdo, said that he loved this cover as an expression of "humanistic humor". Even people who are often put off by Charlie Hebdo's style, because they think it includes too much "tasteless provocation", should recognize that this cartoon conveys a different spirit. (But they probably won't.)

Akos Rona-Tas had this to say:
I find today's Charley Hebdo cover brilliant and funny in a warm hearted way. The sheepish looking prophet is sorry, and expresses this with the sign "I am Charley" without saying the words 'sorry,' with an impish gesture that is both moving and comical. And the response from Charlie is: "all is forgiven."The generosity of the 'all' just as the Mohamed's gesture has a hint of exaggeration. But that is what makes the the two gestures -apology and forgiveness - human and funny at the same time. We don't quite believe either but very much would like to.
Too true.  Are those sentiments being expressed sincerely, sarcastically, or purely aspirationally?  Probably a bit of all three. And "impish" is just the right adjective to describe this gesture.  The cartoon manages to be simultaneously sympathetic, humane, defiant, and provocative.

(Actually, I'm not sure it's completely clear whether "All is forgiven" is supposed to be coming from Mohammed or from Charlie Hebdo. But it works either way, so the ambiguity just adds to the "warm hearted" brilliance of the cartoon.)